The Latest “Necessary” Piece of Climbing Gear is a Problem
This article originally appeared on Climbing
There's a new scourge in today's climbing gyms. No, it's not the team kids up-downing your proj--though they must be stopped, they've grown too powerful--nor is it the influx of Tinder dates, using climbing as the clever ruse du jour to engage in the time-honored mating ritual of displaying one's virility through feats of strength and athleisure wear. It's not even the jump-start, double-clutch, toe-catch coordination boulder problems that everyday strays us further from His light (He being Chris Sharma, squeezer of water from a stone).
The problem is the cameras, so many cameras, capturing every send large and small. The social media-driven need to record our lives has found its way to the climbing gym, a compulsion so great that we now require specialized equipment. Gone are the days of leaning your phone against your water bottle to get the full problem in frame. Tripods have seemingly become a necessary piece of climbing gear, and that reveals a fundamental change in our relationship with the sport.
It's not that long ago that seeing someone videoing themselves climbing indoors was a somewhat rare occurrence. When it did happen, it was generally either a first-timer showing off a new activity they (or their child) discovered or someone trying to capture that glorious send they had spent so long working toward. Nowadays, though, thanks in part to the popularity of climbing apps like those for training boards Moon, Tension, Kilter, etc. as well as trackers like Kaya, there's no climb too mid not to vid.
The problem is not filming in and of itself. Recording oneself, especially when working a project, is one of the most useful tools modern technology has afforded those looking to push their limits. Being able to critically assess your own movement in problem sections can speed up breakthroughs leading to harder sends. And beta videos of others can be equally important. Whether in the hunt for a new project, seeking out novel ideas for a crux, or simply wanting proof of concept that your beta works, watching someone else complete a route can provide that much-needed spark. I myself used to try to add to the beta libraries for Kilter Board problems when I would find a different solution than the ones already posted. But my own sends are as elusive as cryptid sightings: infrequent, seen only in rough shapes out of the corner of your eye, then gone again before you can even remove the lens cap, leaving behind no trace that they ever even existed.
Social media isn't entirely the issue either. At its best, it's simply a medium that allows us to connect around shared interests. And in fact, the social mediafication of climbing has yielded many good things. It has made room for the voices in climbing to be less straight and white and male and only of a single body type. It has brought more attention to discussions of ethics and stewardship and what we as climbers owe not just to the land that is our playground but to future generations. It's even helped keep us from taking climbing so seriously all the time, thanks to pitch-perfect overdubs of pro climbers' videos and a handful of meme-based accounts that have their finger on the pulse of the community at large.
The problem is not filming a gym sesh or posting it to social media. The problem is when our motivations to maneuver our way up that wall are done in service to some other god, when climbing, no longer done for its own sake, is but a burnt offering laid at the feet of the golden calf of Engagement.
Social media, for all its potential good, can be deeply problematic. Platforms are designed with one goal in mind: to keep us on them, weaponizing the power of likes and the little dopamine hits they send our brains to keep us scrolling. None of this is ground-breaking information, of course; we have long been aware of the dangers of social media and the addicting nature of it, and there is a much larger conversation to be had about how social media rewards acting upon our baser vanities and how it's turning our brains into a whipped pudding.
But even within our current context, social media poses some level of existential threat to the soul of climbing. The barrage of indoor send vids clogging up the timeline is normalizing the practice to the extent that we're willing to bring entire mobile studios to the gym with us, tripods akimbo. Send vids aren't a thing, they're THE thing. And as we allow ourselves to indulge more and more in the commerce of trading sends for likes, our motivations modified if not outright upended, how much market share does the climbing itself--the movement per se, the adventure, the individualistic challenge, the communal nature--still hold in our reasons for, y'know, climbing?
As our climbing is performed in service to something else, we then have to view our relationship to climbing through the lens of what it is subservient to. If climbing is simply the needle for some other drug--and in this case an actual, bona fide addiction--can we say our climbing is good? Is it healthy? Is it still pure?
Yet even as I sit here arguing to maintain some sort of purity of motivation, I must confess that history is not on my side. "Purity" is a matter of starting point. We're not that many years removed from a time when my own hang-dogging, stick-clipping ethics would have got me run out of Camp 4 (if not worse), never mind entertained as some notion of climbing purity. The things of value I find in climbing may not be the same things those who came to the sport after me do. And much in the way I write off part of the ethics of prior generations as some overly macho bullshit, intentionally and excessively dangerous as a gatekeeping mechanism, so too could the Gen Z gym crusher see my anti- record everything stance as some won't-you-think-of-the-children pearl-clutching. And they might be right. Maybe climbing can be both this deeply personal pursuit and a way to feed the digital monkey.
Much to the chagrin of the high horse that I currently find myself so precariously perched atop, even if you accept the premises of my argument, there is no real way to apply it to anything other than to one's own actions. There's no measuring stick with which we can say, "yes, they are doing it for the right reasons," or "no, they clearly aren't." Even for the fucking tripod. It's just a tool, neither good nor bad (though its appearance in the gym does make me break out in hives). And perhaps, much like with social media itself, this is another scenario where we have to take the good with the bad. If we want the beta videos, we're just going to have to deal with the fact that cameras are going to be out, everywhere and at all times, and not always for the "right" reasons, whatever that means.
Still, I can't help but feel like we are losing something in the exchange. Our growing compulsion to broadcast every piece of plastic we touch seems to be done less out of pride of accomplishment or to share an integral part of ourselves with friends, but to scratch some 21st-century itch of validation that will never truly be sated. With every plague of tripods, every gym "V7" sent by someone I don't know fed to me personally by Mark Zuckerberg's Internet, I get the sense that climbing, for more and more people, is becoming a secondary sense of fulfillment, that we aren't climbing for ourselves but at least in part for the vapid applause of someone mindlessly scrolling from one video to the next, liked and then forgotten as the next monochromatic polyurethane send washes over their eyeballs.
Intentionality and thoughtfulness are such big parts of what we do in climbing. Our moleskined training logs read like James Joyce novels. We can still recount, in painstaking detail, every bit of microbeta that was key to our proudest sends long past. Perhaps it's worth inspecting everything in the orbit of our climbing with that same critical eye. We are arbiters of our own rectitude, and thus we should ask ourselves truly, about our need to share every climb, even about our climbing itself: Why do we do what we do? And are we happy with the reasons we came up with?
Zac Cadwalader is the managing editor of Sprudge.com and climber based in Dallas, Texas.
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